Any candidate for the presidency of the US must be able to sound knowledgeable on every important issue. How did Barak Obama go about doing that?
Cathy Toohey worked as a volunteer on the Barak Obama campaign to help with the education platform.
Cathy was one of 200 field workers (correction from Cathy: there were 2000 volunteers for education. Those 2000 were subdivided into state groups to report to the education policy group member with certain state responsibilities and they in turn reported into the campaign.) reporting to the central committee on education. Each field worker was responsible for an area. They checked local media, schools, websites, and organizations for educational issues in their region. Cathy’s region was rural Iowa. Her job was to find out:
· What were the education issues
· What was working
· Where were the problems
· What did rural Iowans want to do about them
· What was being reported about education locally
· What were the differences between their issues and national, suburban, or urban issues
· Which of their issues were being addressed and which exacerbated by state and national policies
· Which of Obama’s ten education principles resonate with the local population
Here are some of the things she found about rural issues, and Iowa’s in particular:
· In Iowa, 40% of students are in rural schools, but rural schools only receive 22% of federal funding; nationally, rural enrollments are about 20% of the school population and 40% of the schools.
· Most of national education funds and policy are geared toward urban schools; that’s where the money is, and that is where most of the Title I funds go.
· Schools are much more a part of the community in rural settings; many members of the community attend and root for school teams, and go to school events like plays and concerts.
· Teachers live, are known, and participate in the community, differently from urban and suburban schools, where the teachers usually are not part of the community they teach in.
· AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) is an issue in rural schools, but not nearly as big an issue as in urban schools.
· The biggest issues are a) finding teachers in hard-to-staff areas like math and science, especially given the lower pay scales that they can offer, and b) closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities and students from low income families.
· Having the resources to help children who need help is a key concern; if there are three children in a small, rural district that need help, that is both an economic hardship and a difficult area to staff.
· About half of young children in rural areas are in center-based day care, which is not that different from the 57% nationwide, so investing in early education, a key element of Obama’s education platform, is a concern in rural areas, too.
· Teacher turnover is less an issue in rural areas; probably because teachers are not as meticulously controlled, teaching is less stressful, and teachers are part of the community they teach in.
· Diversity (racial, language, and cultural) issues are not as major as in urban schools, but are a growing concern. Caucasians are just over 80% of the rural school population, but minority enrollment has grown by over 50% over the last five years.
· The average rural school in Iowa has 200 students.
· With small schools and large distances between schools, professional development is an issue; how are you going to get a group of elementary teachers together for training if there are only three within 100 miles.
· Curriculum alignment to standards is considered a key solution, and is perceived as a reason districts have been able to meet NCLB goals.
· Access to AP classes is difficult.
Cathy took her information, just as the other 200 education volunteers did, and regularly reported to the central education committee, who compiled all of the reports and communicated with Obama.
So, rather than relying primarily on a few hand-picked experts, the Obama campaign mobilized field researchers, analyzed data from a variety of sources, used the data to make communications and decisions, and then verified those policies and decisions with more data from the field.
Sounds like a sensible, rationale approach to making decisions and carrying out policy.